George Karl likes to talk about respecting the game and will criticize guys like J.R. Smith, even when he leads the team to a win over the Miami Heat. You would think Karl would jump at the chance to play a hustle-player like Renaldo Balkman, but apparently his poor practice habits have doomed him. What about former Duke player Shelden Williams? Why has Williams' role been reduced to sitting on the bench after such a productive start with the team?
When I watch non-Nuggets NBA games I usually find myself rooting for the team that is either the underdog or the squad that is doing the little things to try to win the game. Sunday night I happened upon the Golden State vs. Oklahoma City game at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
I started watching around the 4:07 mark of the fourth-quarter with the Warriors up 86-82 on the Thunder. The Warriors matched big-shot-for-big-shot, David Lee pulled down a big rebound and Monta Ellis iced the win for the home team 100-94. I didn't get to see all of Lee's 19 rebounds or all of sweet shooting Stephan Curry's 13 assists or scoring machine Ellis' 33 points, but different guys were coming up big for the Warriors.
The home crowd was going nuts for their team's 24th win in 53 tries. The excitement from the team and fans reminded me of the same enthusiasm that the Pepsi Center fans and Nuggets players displayed in the thrilling come from behind win against the Mavericks just days earlier.
I don't always root for the underdog, as I also enjoy seeing those at the top of their craft display what makes them the best. This is best personified when I watch Manny Pacquiao box. Watching Pac-man dismantle his opponent is truly a sweet-science.
So while I will root for guys like Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman to succeed, I also understand their limitations.
The Nuggets' problems run deeper than a couple of role players, but the team could also be a better squad with some simple adjustments. We can all look at the recent NBA champions and see that the small ball style the Denver Nuggets have been playing this season wont take them far. At the beginning of the year injuries were the excuse for why the Nuggets had to go small. Without Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen there was no way the Nuggets could play very big. But now with Birdman and K-Mart back, the Nuggets coaches (or coach) have chosen to continue to play small by keeping Melvin Ely and Williams on the bench.
Was there any point to giving Ely and Williams minutes early in the season? It would seem that injuries can give teams a leg-up, so to speak, in getting their bench guys some quality regular season minutes that could wind up earning them some rotation time once the team is healthy again. Both bigs played pretty well for the Nuggets and have seemed to do nothing to see their roles diminished so much.
Since K-Mart's return on December 22nd, Williams has recorded 14 Did Not Play - Coach's Decisions (DNP-CD). Before that he had played in all 26 Nuggets games and was averaging 20 minutes a night. The Nuggets were 16-10 before Martin returned and they are now 15-15 since that time. This isn't to put the blame on Martin and to say the Nuggets are better off with Williams over him. But in K-Mart's return it's as if the Nuggets lost Williams to injury, when in reality a combination of Nene, Martin, Andersen and Williams should work.
With Williams in the starting lineup, it allowed Nene to shift to power forward as Shelden can guard the centers in the league. Why can't Williams be a part of the rotation?
As it stands, there are 96 minutes to divvy out between the center and power forward positions. Nene averages 30 minutes per game and can continue to do so. K-Mart averages 22 minutes per game and could be pushed up to 25 minutes, Birdman averages 16 minutes and can continue to do so. This leaves 25 minutes of which Karl could give 15-20 minutes of to Williams and still be able to mix in 5-10 minutes of Harrington (at power forward) in his small ball lineups.
The Nuggets fans have been screaming for another big man for a couple seasons now. Al Harrington is a small forward/power forward tweener. Williams is a center/power forward tweener. What does Denver have to lose by giving Williams what he has shown he deserves ... a real spot in the rotation.
Williams has a pretty reliable jumper, he shoots a respectable 73.9% from the foul line and has shown he has a nose for the ball on both the offensive and defensive glass. In addition to his not so limited offensive game he is a solid defender and can routinely guard bigger players without a problem. He's started 32 games this season and averaged 19.4 minutes per night and pulled down a respectable 6.0 rebounds per game in those starts.
Here are his minutes played: won-loss record:
1-14 minutes played: 9-4
15-24 minutes played: 15-10
25+ minutes played: 4-1
The Nuggets are 19-11 when Williams plays 15+ minutes a night ... that's when he has a decent role or at least regular rotation type minutes.
The Nuggets are 3-11 when Williams records a DNP-CD.
Williams has shown that he can be a key member to this team when he is in the rotation. It doesn't make a lot of sense to keep him on the bench when Denver needs his size and rebounding. Guys like Marc Gasol and Chris Kaman are not going to be gifted to the Nuggets, so why not make due with what you have? Williams is a valuable player on this team and his diminished role has hurt the Nuggets. Williams can take the burden of guarding centers off of Nene when they are paired together, he has proven he can score on the offensive end when needed and is active on the glass.
The decision to decrease Williams' role on the team will continue to be a self-inflicting wound that the Nuggets coaches have the power to heal. Put him in coach Karl ... he's shown he's ready to play.
Nuggets related links:
George Karl will wait until trade deadline to assess what the season may hold - Chris Dempsey, Denver Post
Some good quotes here from Karl about the Nuggets needing to re-commit after the trade deadline. It would also help if the team had some momentum going into the deadline with the help of the right rotation players.
@dempseypost - Chris Dempsey, Twitter
Dempsey was re-tweeting plenty of Nuggets fans calling for the team to blow things up after another embarrassing loss ... this time to the Houston Rockets. In the last three games the Nuggets have now blown leads of 18, 17 and 15 points.
@R_Balkman32 - Renaldo Balkman, Twitter
Balkman is focused on the important things in his life ... an upcoming vacation in Puerto Rico.
George Karl talks after the Nuggets fall to the Rockets, Altitude.com
Karl talks about putting together 48-minutes of basketball and about his bench. The one that he says was "man-handled" ... Shelden could help out there ... just a suggestion.
NBA conference standings - ESPN
Not sure how many of you check the standings, but the Nuggets now sit in the eighth and final playoff spot ... just one game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Nate_Timmons on Twitter